What to Expect in Your Global Entry Interview

Good news: the process is easier than you might anticipate!

people lined up at Global Entry kiosks in an airport
Kiss your days in the Customs line goodbye. | HUM Images/Contributor/Getty Images
Kiss your days in the Customs line goodbye. | HUM Images/Contributor/Getty Images

Born in 2008, Global Entry is a Gen-Z teenager now and doesn’t exactly scream “VIP” like it once did. But it still comes with that same enviable perk: skipping the maddeningly long custom lines when you reenter your home country. So who cares if there are a few more travelers you have to share the fast-track space with? That background check is totally worth it—especially now that international travel is opening back up, processing times are returning to normal, and flight prices are still pandemic-rebounding.

All you have to do to get started is create a Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) account. From there, you do have to commit: It’s $100 to apply, and once you’re approved—which can take anywhere from 24 hours to, well, several months—you'll need to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center.

But wait, an interview....from customs? Surely, that must entail sitting in a dimly lit room and being grilled by a crusty old agent who keeps blowing smoke in your face, right? "Did you smuggle a kiwi into the country in 2003 on your way back from Chile? DID YOU?!"

Well, not exactly. While the interview is an integral part of getting your Global Entry approval, it’s not exactly a scene cut from Law & Order either. Here's a demystification of the program and steps for what to expect.

What's the difference between Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, and CLEAR?

Simply put, you can think of Global Entry as everything TSA PreCheck offers plus the ability to buzz through customs—all for just $15 extra—while CLEAR is its own Minority Report-style thing. 

TSA PreCheck means expedited security checks at 200+ US airports, giving you access to shorter lines (usually) and the ability to keep your shoes on. It’s $85 for five years, and it’s great if you rarely travel abroad. Global Entry gives you all that, plus expedited lines through customs and immigration when you arrive back on US soil from your travels abroad. It’s $100 for five years.

CLEAR is a Global Entry alternative that identifies you via your eyes and fingerprints. As of 2022, roughly 35 US airports have CLEAR kiosks where you get bio-scanned and go on your merry way. It’s considerably more expensive: $179 annually. Odds are, at least one of the above will be right for you (so brush up on those interview skills).

Old-school facial recognition. | Flickr/cbpphotos

1. You're almost already approved when you get there

Once you get into the interview room, you’ve already been pre-screened to ensure you’re not on any international watch lists, terror-threat lists, or general "the-US government-doesn’t-like-you" lists. Sometimes they even have your pre-printed approval paper face down on the desk when you walk in. (Just don't be all like, "Hey, is that my approval in front of you? Come on, you can tell me.") So once you get the call, the hard part is over. It’s not a job interview; just go in and relax.

2. They're not going to ask you much

Aside from basic biographical information (name, birthdate, address, etc.), questions should be limited to the following:

  • Why do you want to join Global Entry?
  • Who is your employer?
  • What is your profession?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Have you ever had an issue at customs or border patrol?

They already know the answers to ALL of these questions, so this is more of an integrity check. Don’t lie or try to be funny, and you should be just fine.

3. Have all of your paperwork lined up

Although they'll already know most things about you when you walk through the door, there may be a few situations that need clarification. For example, were you ever arrested but had the charges dropped? Have you traveled to a restricted country (like Cuba) but had a legal reason to be there? They likely don’t have proof that the charges were dropped, or that you were on a humanitarian mission, so you’re on the hook to provide accurate documentation. If you fail to bring the paperwork with you—including a valid passport(s) and one other form of identification, like a driver’s license or ID card—it could delay your approval.

4. Know your criminal history

Global Entry doesn’t delve too deep into your criminal record, and having one won’t immediately disqualify you. That means you may get an interview request only to be turned down on the spot when they learn you’ve been convicted or pled guilty to a misdemeanor in the past 10 years. Don’t waste your time: If you’re unsure whether that game-day public urination incident was an infraction or a misdemeanor, look into it before you even apply. You can check and see if you’re eligible here.

5. They're going to take your picture

If approved, you'll receive a nifty ID card (complete with a picture taken during your interview) in the mail within a few days. So, if you’d like it to look better than your passport and driver’s license photos, dress nice. Or at least don't wear a hat.

6. The interview is short, but you could be there a while

Like we said, they only ask you a handful of questions; if you’ve got nothing interesting to explain, the whole event should take less time than an oil change. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be there for a while: You’re not the only one with a 4pm appointment on a Friday, so be prepared to wait 45 minutes to an hour if you schedule your interview during a busy time. If you can take a half-day off work and go mid-morning Tuesday to Thursday, you won’t have a lot of company. Also, airport locations typically see fewer applicants than city offices.

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Matt Meltzer is a staff writer with Thrillist and is looking forward to being that smug bastard who breezes through customs. But since phones are illegal in that area, you won’t see any pictures of it on Instagram: @meltrez1.